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Creating a disability-inclusive workplace

Updated: Jan 19, 2022

Academic experts provided solutions to create a disability-inclusive workplace during RMIT University’s Accessibility Design Competition held recently.

During the competition, students and industry partners joined academic experts to explore and discuss employment barriers to people with disabilities.

RMIT University Manager Equitable Learning Service, Carol Witney shares possible solutions taken from the competition for a disability-inclusive workplace.

Assistive technology

Most modern jobs require computers and the use of technology. An investment in assistive technology, apps and online tools can support employees with disabilities to fulfill their job responsibilities without impediments. Some common assistive technology aids include colour-coded keyboards, refreshable braille displays, specialised screen reader software, assistive listening devices, speech recognition and sign language apps, and browsers that provide user-friendly and customisable website interface. Assistive technology only becomes optimal when employees with disabilities are trained to best use them, training should also be a crucial part of the entire on-boarding process for employees with disabilities. In addition, it’s also important that organisations provide inhouse training on disability awareness for all levels of employees.

External supports

Companies should consider cooperating with non-profit and government agencies who are working towards more inclusive workplaces, to organise seminars and awareness initiatives. This not only improves employee participation and morale, but also helps bring fresh and new perspectives to approaching the issue. Organisations can also work with local disability organisations and self-help groups to gain access to information regarding approaches and practices used at other corporate groups.

A freely accessible workplace

Disabled-friendly parking, wheelchair accessible doorways, ramps at entries and exits of buildings and cafeterias, wide corridors and easy access to workstations, accessible operating buttons and braille in lifts, and accessible washrooms are some of the necessities required to make a workplace disabled-friendly. Meeting rooms and other common access areas also need to be given special attention and made accessible to all disabled employees. Companies should make sure that their website and other communication materials are accessible too. For instance, RMIT has an inclusive language guide covering general principles of inclusive communication, and specific examples and guidelines for communicating with some key groups.

Honest and fair feedback

Another key factor for improving inclusivity in a workplace is to communicate to employees with disabilities without bias. If managers tend to show leniency to employees with disabilities during appraisal, this may affect their ability to detect drawbacks and improve their performance. Honest feedback can help employees with disabilities feel as responsible for their work as others. This point also makes it evident that senior management and managers need to be trained to inclusively lead and mentor employees with disabilities. Leaders may need to develop and understand communication styles that help them engage with employees with disabilities better. This may, in turn, involve managerial training and workshops to achieve the desired outcome.

Employee health and wellbeing

A focus on mental health should be of foremost priority, especially in inclusive environments. Games, physical activities, and other recreational options can be encouraged within a company. Gyms, relaxation rooms and even sleeping pods are becoming common at workplaces. Another option companies can consider is including families and caregivers of disabled employees in their awareness initiatives and pre-hiring training sessions. This can make it easier for disabled employees to get used to their new roles.

“Ultimately, an inclusive and diverse workforce can increase productivity, improve employee morale, build better brand identity for companies, and help contribute to social development,” said Ms Witney.

“With proper initiatives and steps in place, this is something that all companies can strive for and achieve.”

Story: Nguyen Dieu Huong

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